Can a Debt Collector Seize Your Stimulus Check?

stimulus Apr 01, 2021

The third, $1,400 stimulus checks currently being distributed to Americans have already provided important relief to many people who are struggling to pay their expenses during the pandemic. Although the U.S. economy is recovering, there are still record numbers of people unemployed or facing wage cuts.

Since $1,400 will go a long way to help cover groceries or rent, those with outstanding debts may be wondering if private debt collectors can take their checks. Here’s what you need to know about debt protection for your stimulus checks, and whether your check can be “garnished” (seized) by debt collectors.

Are there federal protections against debt collectors taking your stimulus check?

Unfortunately, there are no federal protections against private debt collectors seizing stimulus checks. Democrats attempted to pass protections in Congress, but Republicans blocked the bill and it did not pass. The last two stimulus checks were protected from garnishment, but private debt collectors can seize your $1,400 stimulus check.

What about government debt?

Although private debt collectors can seize your $1,400 check, the U.S. government will not. Your stimulus check cannot be garnished for outstanding government debts like unpaid taxes, student loans, or even child support. If the only debt you owe is to the government, you can rest assured that your check will reach your bank account to use toward whatever needs you may have.

Are there state-level protections for stimulus checks?

Although there are no federal-level protections to keep private debt collectors from taking stimulus checks, some states have passed their own protections. Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington, as well as state attorneys general in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and New York, have made policies to protect the third stimulus check from debt collectors.

If you live in one of these states and your check is seized, you should be able to fight to get it back (perhaps with the help of a legal aid society or other low-cost legal services).

Unfortunately, not everyone in the U.S. is protected from having their stimulus checks seized by private debt collectors. However, if your check is seized, even if you don’t live in a state with explicit protection, you may be able to get your check back with the help of a lawyer. Many legal aid societies and law firms offer free or low-cost legal help. You can also follow along with the Skip Blog to get the latest news on stimulus checks.

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